The following guidelines will help you decide if the oboe is a good choice for you.
- Hands are large enough to handle large stretches.
- Teeth are smooth and free of sharp edges; closed teeth meet evenly.
- Sense of pitch is above average.
- Eye-hand coordination is good.
- Both student and parents enjoy "classical" music.
- Reading skills are above average.
- Perseverance and level of confidence are high.
- Work habits are strong and achievement is high.
- Desire to play the oboe is unwavering.
- Parental support is strong.
Listen to Examples
- John DeLancie
- Heinz Holliger
- Pierre Pierlot
- Robert Sprenkle
- Ray Still
Assembly & Care
Avoid costly repairs!
If you can hear it clanking around as you put it together and pack it up, then you need to be more careful.
Assembling the Oboe
- Soak your reed up to 10 minutes.
- Rub a small amount of cork grease on all corks, if needed. Wash your hands.
- Hold the upper section with your left hand and the foot joint in your right hand.
- Press your fingers over the round tone hole keys.
- Grasp the lower section with your right hand.
- Again, press your fingers over the round tone hole keys.
- Gently twist the upper and lower sections together.
- The upper section's bridge key must be directly over the lower section's bridge key.
- Hold the instrument with your left hand.
- Pick up the bell with your right hand.
- Press down on the round bell key, raising it.
- Twist the bell onto the cork of the lower section.
- The bell bridge must be directly over the bottom bridge key.
- Put the reed in your mouth.
- Form your embouchure and blow forcefully through the reed to remove excess water.
- You should make a loud, bird-like noise.
- Carefully insert the cork of the reed all the way into the reed well.
Packing Up Carefully
Before putting your instrument back in its case after playing, do the following:
- Carefully remove the reed and blow air through it to remove excess water. Put the reed carefully back into the reed case. Remember, the reeds are expensive!
- Take the instrument apart in the reverse order of assembly. Swab out each section with a cloth or feather swab. If the cloth swab has a weight on one end, drop the weight through each section and pull through.
- Return each section to the correct spot in the case.
- You should have no other materials in your case, except for those it was designed to hold. Do not use force when closing your case or you could damage the instrument.
- Improper assembly may damage your instrument
- Damaged equipment will cause problems
To get the best sound or tone quality you should:
- Hold your instrument with good posture
- Play with good breath support, focused airstream, and strong embouchure formation
To control pitch you should:
- Develop good listening skills
- Practice different notes (positions and combinations)
Learn the Notes
One at a time...
Before you learn new songs, you need to learn the notes. Every oboe player should understand how to read the fingering chart below. Practice holding the oboe and placing your fingers in all the different combinations for the notes. You will be able to switch faster as your coordination and dexterity improves.
Articulation is the process of attacking and releasing a sequence of notes. Ending the sound is just as important as beginning the pitch. Use the "tip of your tongue at the top of your teeth."
Dexterity is a mental skill or quickness, as well as the readiness and grace in physical activity. In relation to playing an instrument, dexterity is the skill and ease of using your hands and fingers.
Don't get in the habit of curling fingers. Also, you may have trouble if you raise your fingers too far above the keys. Remember that evenness is better than speed. Playing fast, furious, and fumbling is simply not impressive.
How do you sound?
Embouchure (ahm'-bah-shure) is your mouth's position on the reed. A good embouchure takes time and effort, so carefully follow these steps for success:
- Soak your reed in a small container of water, such as a camera film case.
- Open your mouth so your teeth are slightly apart.
- Roll your lower lip over your bottom teeth. Remove the reed from the water. Gently place the tip of the reed on the center of your lower lip.
- Cover your upper teeth with your upper lip, and firmly close your lips around the reed. Your lips support the reed. Make sure your teeth do not touch it.
- Adjust the position of the reed so the tip barely touches your tongue.
Start with the Reed Only
Form your embouchure with the reed in place and take a deep breath without raising your shoulders. Whisper "pooh" and gradually exhale your full airstream. Strive for an even tone. The "duck call" sound is actually called a "double crow." Listen for the note C in the double crow.
Holding the Oboe
Hold the oboe up and aim the bell past your knees.
- Put your right thumb under the thumb rest.
- Place your left thumb just below the octave key.
- Your fingers should curve naturally like the shape of a "C."
Posture & Poise
Sit on the edge of your chair, and always keep your:
- Spine straight and tall
- Shoulders back and relaxed
- Feet flat on the floor
- Music stand height-adjusted to read the music and watch the conductor
Tuning & Pitch Control
Take control of your pitch.
Tuning is the process of matching pitch, which requires two sources: your instrument and another instrumentalist or electronic tuner. Experienced players tune to a "remembered" pitch.
How to Tune
- Warm up thoroughly before tuning.
- Tune to a reliable frequency using "Concert A."
- Do not pull the reed out too much.
- Instead, adjust the embouchure pressure and the amount of reed inside the mouth to change the pitch.
- In general, make adjustments to your embouchure and then the reed placement.
- "Pull out" the reed to lower the pitch.
- "Push in" the reed to raise the pitch.
How to Control Pitch
The oboe is not the most difficult instrument to play in tune, because it is easier to control than the flute and clarinet. Oboe players control intonation with the embouchure and the position of the reed in the mouth. The instrument itself, however, is never perfectly in tune. The low register may be unstable due to defects in the bore. Oboe students must learn to listen carefully and evaluate their pitch. Remember that both blades of the reed must vibrate equally for consistent pitch. Specifically, sharp intonation is caused by holding the oboe at an angle of less than 30 degrees from the body.
Intonation & Technique
The Oboe's Natural Flaws
The causes of poor intonation may be inadequate breath support, a poorly formed embouchure, or poor listening habits. However, every instrument has inherent intonation flaws. They are listed below for the oboe.
Inherent Intonation Flaws
- In general, the low register is flat (too low)
- In general, the middle register is in tune (just right)
- In general, the high register is sharp (too high)
Intonation is the process of moving from one pitch to another pitch at a specific interval (vertically). Intonation is controlled by one person because it relies on a trained ear and acquired listening skills while playing.
Specific Pitch Tendencies
Memorize this information
Sharp tendencies (too high):
- The oboe will tend to play sharp in the upper range, especially above high Bb.
- Sharpness is also caused pinching the reed or biting.
- At times, and depending on the quality of the reed, taking too much reed in the mouth may cause sharpness.
Pitch may be lowered through a variety of techniques including:
- Adjust reed when assembling instrument, pull out
- Adjusting the amount of reed in the mouth (pull out)
- Directing the airstream downward
- Slight relaxation of the embouchure to avoid pinching or biting
- Alternate fingerings
Flat tendencies (too low):
- The oboe will tend to play flat in the lower range.
- Unsupported air and slower air speed will also cause the pitch to go flat.
- Flatness is also caused by an embouchure that is unsupported or too relaxed.
- At times, and depending on the quality of the reed, taking too little reed in the mouth may cause flatness.
Pitch may be raised through a variety of techniques including:
- Adjust reed when assembling instrument, push in
- Adjusting the amount of reed in the mouth (push in)
- Directing the airstream upward
- Slight increase in embouchure firmness
- Better air support
- Alternate fingerings
Today is tomorrow's yesterday.
Get more familiar with your instrument and learn who invented it, who composes music for it, and who has mastered the art of playing it.
Origins of the oboe can be traced to the late 13th century shawms. This family of double reed instruments was prominently featured in music of the Middle Ages (500-1430).
Frenchman Jean Hotterre is credited with inventing the oboe in 1660. The name "oboe" is actually a mispronunciation of "hautbois," the original French word for a "high wood" shawm instrument. In the 19th century, instrument makers created an oboe fingering system modeled after the flute designed by Boehm. Today, most oboes are made with the Boehm system.
The oboe family includes the Oboe in C (the most common), Oboe d'Amore in A and the English Horn in F. In concert band and orchestra, the oboe plays solos and blends with other woodwind instruments. It is the highest-pitched double reed instrument.
IV. Composers & Performers
C.P.E. Bach, Beethoven, Mahler, Richard Strauss, and Vaughan Williams are important composers who have included the oboe in their writing. Famous oboe performers include Heinz Holliger and John DeLancie.
Units of Study
Building skill. Developing technique.
Learn about intonation, pitch control, care & maintenance, etc.